Shot of a senior man drinking coffee and looking thoughtfully out of a window wondering about hearing loss.

Have you ever bought one of those “one size fits all” t-shirts only to be dismayed (and shocked) when the shirt does not, in fact, fit as advertised? It’s kind of a bummer, right? There aren’t actually very many “one size fits all” with anything in the real world. That’s not only relevant with clothing, it’s also true with medical conditions such as hearing loss. This can be accurate for many reasons.

So what causes hearing loss? And what’s the most common type of hearing loss? Well, that’s exactly what we intend to explore.

There are different forms of hearing loss

Everybody’s hearing loss situation will be as unique as they are. Maybe you hear perfectly well at the office, but not in a crowded restaurant. Or perhaps you only have problems with high or low-pitched sounds. Your loss of hearing can take a wide range of forms.

How your hearing loss shows up, in part, might be determined by what’s causing your symptoms to begin with. Because your ear is a rather complex little organ, there are lots of things that can go wrong.

How does hearing work?

It’s useful to get an idea of how hearing is supposed to work before we can figure out what level of hearing loss calls for a hearing aid. Here’s how it breaks down:

  • Outer ear: This is the portion of the ear that’s visible. It’s where you’re initially exposed to a “sound”. Sounds are effectively guided into your middle ear for further processing due to the shape of your outer ear.
  • Middle ear: The eardrum and a few tiny bones are what your middle ear is composed of (yes, you have bones in your ear, but they are admittedly very, very tiny).
  • Inner ear: This is where your stereocilia are found. Vibration is picked up by these fragile hairs which are then converted into electrical energy. Your cochlea helps here, too. This electrical energy is then sent to your brain.
  • Auditory nerve: This nerve is located in your ear, and it’s responsible for transmitting and sending this electrical energy to your brain.
  • Auditory system: All of the elements listed above, from your brain to your outer ear, are elements of your “auditory system”. It’s important to understand that all of these parts are continually working together and in concert with one another. In other words, the system is interconnected, so any problem in one area will usually affect the performance of the whole system.

Varieties of hearing loss

Because there are multiple parts of your auditory system, there are (as a result) numerous forms of hearing loss. The root cause of your hearing loss will determine which kind of hearing loss you experience.

The prevalent types of hearing loss include:

  • Conductive hearing loss: When there’s a blockage somewhere in the auditory system, usually the middle or outer ear, this form of hearing loss happens. Usually, this blockage is a consequence of fluid or inflammation (when you have an ear infection, for instance, this typically happens). In some cases, conductive hearing loss can be caused by a growth in the ear canal. Normally, with conductive hearing loss, your hearing will go back to normal when the blockage has been removed.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: When the fragile hairs that pick up sound, called stereocilia, are damaged by loud sound they are normally destroyed. Normally, this is a chronic, progressive and irreversible type of hearing loss. Usually, people are encouraged to use hearing protection to prevent this kind of hearing loss. If you have sensorineural hearing loss, it can still be treated by devices like hearing aids.
  • Mixed hearing loss: It occasionally happens that somebody will experience both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss simultaneously. This can sometimes be challenging to treat because the hearing loss is coming from different places.
  • Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: ANSD is a fairly rare condition. It takes place when the cochlea doesn’t properly transmit sounds from your ear to your brain. ANSD can normally be managed with a device called a cochlear implant.

The desired results are the same even though the treatment solution will differ for each form of hearing loss: to improve or preserve your ability to hear.

Variations on hearing loss types

And there’s more. Any of these common types of hearing loss can be further categorized (and with more specificity). For example, hearing loss can also be classified as:

  • Progressive or sudden: You have “progressive” hearing loss if it gradually gets worse over time. If your hearing loss occurs all at once, it’s known as “sudden”.
  • Fluctuating or stable: Fluctuating hearing loss refers to hearing loss that comes and goes. Stable hearing loss remains at relatively the same level.
  • Acquired hearing loss: If you experience hearing loss as a result of outside causes, like damage, it’s known as “acquired”.
  • Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: This means you’re either experiencing hearing loss in just one ear (unilateral) or both ears (bilateral).
  • High frequency vs. low frequency: You may experience more difficulty hearing high or low-frequency sounds. Your hearing loss can then be classified as one or the other.
  • Pre-lingual or post-lingual: Hearing loss is called pre-lingual when it develops before you learned to talk. Hearing loss is post-lingual when it develops after you learned to talk. This will affect the way hearing loss is treated.
  • Congenital hearing loss: Hearing loss you were born with.
  • Symmetrical or asymmetrical: If your hearing loss is the same in both ears it’s symmetrical and if it’s not the same in both ears it’s asymmetrical.

That may seem like a lot, and it is. But your hearing loss will be more effectively treated when we’re able to use these categories.

A hearing exam is in order

So how can you tell what type, and which sub-type, of hearing loss you’re experiencing? Unfortunately, hearing loss isn’t really something you can accurately diagnose by yourself. For instance, is your cochlea functioning correctly, how would you know?

But you can get a hearing test to determine exactly what’s going on. It’s like when you have a check engine light on in your car and you bring it to a qualified auto technician. We can help you identify what type of hearing loss you have by hooking you up to a wide variety of modern technology.

So the best way to determine what’s going on is to schedule an appointment with us as soon as you can!

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The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.

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